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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, June 13, 2024

Football secures winning season with NESCAC victory over Colby

The Tufts Jumbos won 49–13 against Hamilton College Continentals at Ellis Oval on Oct. 29.

The Tufts Jumbos prevailed over the Colby Mules this past weekend in a statement win to improve their standing in the conference. Both teams came into the weekend with records of 4–3 overall and were reasonably well-matched entering the game. Tufts held the slight advantage with the benefit of having the top offense in the NESCAC in terms of total yards. The Jumbos have won their last eight head-to-head matchups against Colby, dating back to 2014. 

The offense has preached a strong start throughout the season, but it was the Jumbos’ defense that set the tone for the rest of the game. Colby received the opening kickoff and was able to drive to midfield before the Mules’ senior quarterback Matt Hersch was sacked for a 9-yard loss on third down by senior defensive lineman Michael Butler. The Mules punted away to the Jumbos, but the offense wasn’t able to get any momentum as many of sophomore quarterback Michael Berluti’s first few passes fell incomplete. Colby’s offense was stalled once again on their ensuing drive by a sack by junior linebacker EJ Comerford. Tufts was able to get a little bit of offense as they drove to midfield before getting stopped and having to punt away. The special teams unit came through for the Jumbos as Colby’s return man fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by freshman linebacker Jeff Xu on the Colby 9-yard line. This put the Jumbos offense in great position to score, and they were able to do so on a 1-yard rush by senior running back Tyler Johnson. 

Bolstered by the 7–0 lead, the defense was able to get another stop on another third down Comerford sack. The defensive line continued to dominate on Colby’s next drive, with junior defensive lineman Javier Rios getting in on the sack party with one of his own. 

“We know our offense is always gonna score points, so it's just a matter of time,” Comerford said. “And we just knew we had to do our job while the offense was trying to figure it out. We got a lot of big sacks and it obviously worked out in the end.”

The Mules’ punt only went to the Tufts 47-yard line, and the offense was able to start off their drive with good field position. Berluti was able to connect with his favorite receiver, senior wide receiver Phil Lutz, for 49 yards, which took the offense inside the 5-yard line. Berluti went right back to Lutz again for the touchdown to make it 14–0 Tufts. With five minutes remaining in the half, Colby started their drive from their own 20-yard line. The Mules finally picked up some offensive momentum of their own with a 38-yard pass to get them into Tufts territory. On fourth-and-4, the Mules opted to go for it, and Hersch connected on a 27-yard pass to take them all the way inside the 5-yard line. Sophomore running back Keon Smart ran the ball into the end zone to cut the Tufts lead in half and make the score 14–7.

“I think in the first half, the defense and special teams did a good job of holding their own,” sophomore wide receiver Cade Moore said. “I think that's kind of the strength of this team …that usually when one side of the ball is not not doing so hot, the other side's usually able to pick us up.”

The Jumbos opened up the second half with a different tone. They embarked on a 13-play, 71-yard drive that took seven minutes off the clock. Berluti was able to connect on short passes to a variety of receivers, including junior wide receiver Jaden Richardson and Lutz. He was very versatile and took what the defense gave him, picking up yards with his legs as well as relying on his arm. Johnson consistently gained yardage, and the offense marched down the field. The drive was capped off with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Lutz for his second of the day, making the score 21–7 Tufts. 

In the fourth quarter, Berluti continued to rely on his legs to pick up yardage, and the offensive line gave Johnson enough room to pick up small chunks of yardage. Lutz was the consistent receiver he has been all season, with Berluti connecting with him twice on the drive. Johnson ran the ball into the end zone from the one-yard line for his second touchdown of the day to make it 28–7 Tufts. 

The pass rush hit home once again on Colby’s next drive, and got a sack to stop the Mules’ progress. Sophomore running back Aundre Smith got into the game on the offensive side of the ball and picked up consistent chunks of yardage to move the offense down the field and run time off the clock. Berluti ripped off a 20-yard run for a touchdown to finish off the Jumbos scoring for the day and make the score 35–7.

Berluti had a solid day, going 20 for 26 with 199 yards and two touchdowns passing. He also picked up 61 yards rushing along with a rushing touchdown. Lutz had a great game with 11 catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns. The two scores put him at eight touchdowns for the season. He continues to lead the conference in receiving yards. Johnson picked up 78 yards and two touchdowns on the day. He leads the conference in rushing yards with 636 total. 

The win puts the Jumbos in fourth place in the conference with an overall record of 5–3. It also ensures a winning season for Tufts, their first since 2018. They will face Middlebury next weekend, who have a record of 7–1 and are a very strong team. 

“Ultimately, we'd rather be 6–3 than 5–4, so we're definitely gonna bring it this week,” Comerford said. “Middlebury is a really good team, so it should be a really good game.”